Identity Project

The government has introduced a bill on Aadhaar – and it is not good news

Introduced as a Money Bill, it does not need the approval of the Rajya Sabha.

For long, critics have pointed out that Aadhaar – the ambitious Unique Identification project started by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2009 – functions without a legal framework. The project, which aims to assign a biometrics-based number to every resident of India, has been controversial, with activists pointing out the dangers of collecting identification data of residents in a country that lacks a privacy law. So far, the project has been run under an executive order, which means Parliament has no oversight over it.

Finally, it seems the project might get the cover of law.

The government on Thursday introduced the Aadhaar (Target Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016.

But this move has come under criticism.

The bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha as a Money Bill, which means it does not require the approval of the Rajya Sabha, where the Opposition is in the majority. This means the Opposition will be unable to force any amendments to the proposed legislation. Simultaneously, a previous bill, introduced in 2010, scrutinised by a standing committee, was withdrawn.

Even before the Lok Sabha debates the new bill, it has come under sharp scrutiny. Three questions are being asked by Opposition legislators and legal experts:

One, how justified is the move to introduce legislation on Aadhaar in the form of a Money Bill? Is this a ploy by the government to bypass the Upper House where it lacks a majority?

Two, does the bill address concerns over privacy?

Three, does the bill enable the government to make Aadhaar mandatory, overriding an order of the Supreme Court?

Debate over Money Bill

According to PRS Legislative Research, for a bill to be considered a Money Bill, it must contain provisions related only to taxation, borrowing of money by the government, expenditure from or receipt to the Consolidated Fund of India, and matters incidental to such taxation, expenditure and related subjects.

The government has justified the move to introduce Aadhaar as a Money Bill, citing its significance to the delivery of welfare subsidies. The bill provides that the government may make the Aadhaar number a prerequisite for receiving any “subsidies, benefits, or services” on which expenditure is from the Consolidated Fund of India.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has argued that since the monetary allocations for government subsidy schemes will be disbursed from the Consolidated Fund of India, the Aadhaar bill can be termed a Money Bill.

But Opposition leaders are unconvinced.

In an email response to, Lok Sabha MP Tathagata Satpathy of the Biju Janta Dal questioned the government’s argument. “There are instances of several previous legislations, brought in through the normal process, that draw from the same fund [Consolidated Fund of India]. I wonder why this bill is being treated differently,” he said.

Satpathy added that the government was circumventing the Rajya Sabha. “This is a dangerous precedent to set because, in days to come, it will enable the government to do the same for other Bills too.”

Left members of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha objected to the bill too. “By no stretch of imagination can the Aadhaar Bill be termed a Money Bill,” said Brinda Karat, a Rajya Sabha member of Parliament from the Communist Party of India (Marxist). “It is because the government expects questions in the Rajya Sabha on it that they want to bypass the House altogether… The Speaker has a specific responsibility to prevent misuse of the clause which gives her the final say in such decisions and do what is in the interests of democracy.”

Independent Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, however, said if the preamble of the Aadhaar Bill was amended – making it conditional for Aadhaar to be used alongside databases such as the Below Poverty Line database – then it could qualify as a Money Bill.

The final decision over whether or not Aadhaar is a Money Bill rests with the Lok Sabha Speaker, Sumitra Mahajan.

Privacy concerns

Biometrics collected under Aadhaar include the scan of all fingerprints, face, and the iris of both eyes. The demographic information includes name, date of birth, gender, residential address.

India does not have a comprehensive law on privacy. In the absence of this, legal experts and academics say, making Aadhaar mandatory has serious implications for the misuse of personal information and surveillance by the State.

While the government has said that the biometric information of those enrolled under Aadhaar will be safeguarded as per sections of the Information Technology Act, 2000, technology law experts say the adjudicatory system for disclosure of sensitive personal data under the IT Act has structural flaws and is not functional.

“Initial complaints for disclosure of sensitive personal data go to an adjudicating officer who is usually the IT Secretary of the state government and may not be trained in law,” said a technology lawyer. “There is no court infrastructure and no permanent seat for such cases. The appellate body, the Cyber Appellate Tribunal has not been made operational in the last three years. Hence, the civil remedies offered (in Aadhaar Bill) are at best illusionary and unenforceable.”

Section 33 of the Aadhaar Bill contains provisions for interception of Aadhaar’s demographic and core biometrics data, which will not be open to independent scrutiny. Section 33(2) permits disclosure pursuant to directions of a joint secretary in “the interest of national security,” but the phrase “national security” is undefined in the present Bill, or the General Clauses Act.

Further, the Bill contains no provisions for independent oversight, limitations on continuous surveillance, or notice to the person who is surveilled once the surveillance ceases.

Chinamayi Arun, who is executive director, Centre for Communication Governance at the National Law University Delhi said that the Bill provides very easy access to citizen information on the database to law enforcement agencies, without sufficient transparency or accountability. “It does not provide strict liability in case of a breach of information,” she said.

Legal scholar Usha Ramanathan pointed out that the Bill lacks provisions on notice to a person in case of breach of information, in case of third party use of data, or change in purpose of use of data – which were among provisions recommended by the Justice Shah Committee on Privacy in 2012 on an earlier Bill on the same Unique Identification project.

Expanding the scope of Aadhaar

While the government has stated that the aim of the Bill is to streamline government subsidies, legal experts say the phrasing in Section 7 provides for an ambit wider than government subsidies, and includes any benefits and services charged on the Consolidated Fund of India.

“The Central Government or, as the case may be, the State Government may, for the purpose of establishing identity of an individual as a condition for receipt of a subsidy, benefit or service for which the expenditure is incurred from, or the receipt therefrom forms part of, the Consolidated Fund of India..”

Since the beginning of the programme in 2009, Nandan Nilekani, who led the Unique India Development Authority of India under the previous United Progressive Alliance government, had maintained that Aadhaar is voluntary. But to expand enrolment under the scheme, the United Progressive Alliance government, as well as the Modi government, pushed state governments to ask residents to produce Aadhaar cards to access various social schemes, to open bank accounts, to vote, to register a marriage, or even adopt a child.

A number of public interest writ petitions were filed in the Supreme Court against the coercive use of Aadhaar.

Between September 2013 and March 2015, the Supreme Court passed three orders saying the government cannot make Aadhaar mandatory and no one should be deprived of a public benefit or service for not possessing an Aadhaar number. Later, in October last year, it allowed the voluntary use of Aadhaar in seven specific schemes. The government has challenged the order.

A senior official in the cabinet secretariat overseeing the linking of Aadhaar numbers to bank accounts of beneficiaries under the direct benefits transfer scheme said: “The Supreme Court had allowed only its voluntary use in 6-7 schemes, but if everyone exercises the voluntary option, it defeats the purpose of the programme, and the new Bill will address this.”

Economist Jean Drèze, who had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court over the government seeking to make Aadhaar mandatory for MNREGA workers, said the introduction of the Bill has at least ended the pretence that Aadhaar is voluntary.

“The Aadhaar project was sold to the public as a voluntary facility,” said Drèze. “The Supreme Court sensibly ruled that this would preclude making Aadhaar compulsory for any basic services. The government has reappropriated that power under the Aadhaar Bill, ending the pretence that Aadhaar is voluntary.”

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What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

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Getting the best from collaborations

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There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

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Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.